Memories from Father Teo, a man who walks with Christ

By Father Teo

During the 1960’s I was a professor in a private high school in Bolivia. Our students were sons and daughters of those with power in government and wealth. It was these future leaders of Bolivia that we wanted to be aware of the Social Justice teachings of the Catholic Church. Not only ourselves, but also those who taught in the other private high schools did an excellent job.

During my time there I lived through 7 revolutions, 7 different attempts to change and better the country, but with no success. I was sometime during the last month of my stay that one of my former students invited me to his home for dinner. Before, during and after dinner the two of us had a wonderful conversation. He confidentially told me that he was the commandante of the guerrilla movement living in the semi jungles of Bolivia and they were about ready to begin the revolution that Bolivia needed to restore social justice and Christian love for one another, two virtues that were missing. 

As I listened, I begin to notice that something wasn’t correct. He had relayed to me exactly all the teachings on social justice. It was all being done for the glory of God and the betterment of our fellow brothers and sisters, especially the poor and indigenous. After taking control of the government and the country, they would immediately establish that longed for Christian society of brotherly love. 

I asked Roberto a question. “Tell me. How are you going to change overnight the country into such a loving just country? To win the revolution you are putting guns in the hands of people, commanding them to kill if necessary in order to take control. We can’t put those feelings into people one day, and then the next day replace that with brotherly love.” He replied, “Oh, yes we can because we are doing it right.”

That was the moment that I realized that I had spent my many years forming and teaching the youth how to change society, and never once did anything to help them change their hearts first. I had wasted my time. Unless the heart is changed with love first, there is no way to change society. The revolution failed. Most of the guerrillas were killed. 

This happened in the early days of Liberation Theology, the theology of social justice that was being taught throughout South and Central America. It was an attempt to rid the hemisphere of all the terrible social evils that had existed for centuries. And it was now able to be done with a clear conscious. It was a part of the Church’s theology. It proved the justification of warfare as a last resort, which really became the first resort. This is what we taught our students.

It was only at that dinner engagement with Roberto that I saw for the first time that war does not solve problems because even though it changes leaders of government it does not change anyone’s heart. Unless the heart is changed with love, the same evil will again appear. All will be the same. 

Fortunately, it was the following year that the Liberation Theologians realized the same thing, and their teaching was changed. It became based the realization that only those people who had experienced our Heavenly Father’s love were able to share that love, a love that changes and heals hearts of hurts and hatred. That love does not and cannot use force nor warfare as a means to accomplish its end.

Recently, I attended a lecture given by Dr. C.T. Vivian, a minister who knew Dr. Martin Luther King. In the lecture he stated how hard Dr. King insisted that all their demonstrations had to be done from a spiritual non-violent attitude. Adding the spiritual element was adding love for the one who was the cause of their suffering and lack of justice. I realized that Dr. King in choosing in a sense Liberation Theology had correctly based it on one’s experience of the Father’s Love. As a result, his “revolution” was successful. There was and has remained change!

February 26, 2016